Mesothelioma Awareness Day is on September 26, and is a day to recognize the importance of asbestos prevention in the workplace. This year marks the 17th anniversary, and encourages workers to ensure the protection of their health with awareness about this hazardous mineral.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring, fibrous mineral that was utilized in a variety of building materials and products from the 1900s up until the 1980s. With its heat resilience, ability to withstand erosion, and electrical insulation properties, asbestos was an appealing mineral to use in most building occupation industries. The CDC notes that employees in the construction industry are among those with the highest rates of exposure, with an estimated 1.3 million construction workers coming into contact with asbestos on the job each year. At its height, asbestos could have been found in anything such as:
- Adhesives, bondings, and sealers
- Construction materials
- Fireproofing and fire-resistant products
- Transportation and automotive parts
As asbestos deteriorates, it can release hazardous needle-like fibers into the air. These fibers are not only microscopic, but are dangerous as they are a known human carcinogen. Asbestos can be inhaled or ingested, and once in the body, becomes lodged into the lining of crucial organs. Asbestos-related illnesses predominantly affect the respiratory system, and individuals will often experience symptoms ranging from difficulty breathing to chest pains. Because symptoms align with less serious health issues such as the flu or pneumonia, individuals may be misdiagnosed, leading to incorrect treatment plans and options.
One of the most common illnesses stemming from asbestos exposure is asbestosis, where these fibers settle in the lung tissue, causing inflammation and scarring. While asbestosis itself is not a type of cancer, over time, the condition can become more severe and present a higher risk of developing into an asbestos-related cancer, such as mesothelioma or lung cancer. Because many of these diseases from asbestos have a latency period of 10-50 years, it can be challenging to pinpoint where and when a patient came into contact with asbestos.
During the 1970s, the U.S. government issued several guidelines in an attempt to limit asbestos exposure. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1977, which included permissible exposure levels for asbestos fibers. Air toxin regulations under this act include specific work practices around asbestos to be mandated during demolitions and renovations of all buildings and facilities. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) andMine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) all have regulations and requirements pertaining to their respective industries which help protect the safety of workers.
While guidelines are enforced, it falls on the responsibility of individual companies and employers to ensure that their employees are not exposed by utilizing asbestos handling best practices. Employers must conduct air monitoring sampling to determine levels of airborne asbestos in all workplaces that contain, or are suspected to harbor asbestos-containing products, as well as share this information with their employees. When working in a space that has asbestos, it’s imperative to use necessary respiratory protection. Employers are required to provide high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) respiratory masks and vacuums as key safeguards against inhaling asbestos fibers.
Asbestos remains a danger to individuals across a variety of occupational industries today. While Mesothelioma Awareness Day is an annual event, the prevention of asbestos exposure is an issue that needs to be widely advocated for, regardless of the time of year.